Much has been made of the seeming unwillingness of Googles founders to take the company public. Its like they are being dragged kicking and screaming into a multibillion-dollar payday.
The lead Googlians say theyre doing the IPO so investors can cash out, but as soon as that happens they will run the company without regard to the quarterly numbers that made Wall Streets heart go pitter-patter.
So Google will be just like a private company that isnt. And the people who buy the 9 percent of Google thats hitting the public market will be treated like … well, it could be like they dont own anything! That should make for really fun annual meetings.
For more than $100 a share, I say we should let Google keep its overpriced stock. Mark my words: Google is the Netscape of the new millennium. Well, the fall wont be so dramatic—Microsoft only sort of wants Googles head on a stick—but the selling shareholders are getting out while the gettings good. Its possible all the “odd” aspects of the stock offering are just PR stunts intended to more efficiently part fools from their money.
Something else Ive noticed is the closer we get to the Google IPO the less useful Google has become. The bad guys have clearly learned to spoof the search engine, so much so that sometimes the first page or two of results are liberally salted with pages from other search engines claiming to be search results. Its also not as easy to find what I want on Google. I cant say why, but I am starting to look at using multiple search engines again. Maybe you really cant decide the relevance of a particular page based on how many other pages are linked to it.
Even the previously useful Google advertising of old now seems, likely as not, to be fill-in-the-customers-search-term-here ads from eBay and other vendors who really dont have much to offer me.
Unless Google can do something quick to dramatically improve the quality of the results it presents, the search engine is in real trouble. But not to worry—most people wont pay attention during the IPO hype-storm, and no one will understand the real mess Google seems to be in until after a cool $3 billion has left investors pockets.
Nice work if you can get it. And speaking of work, for the past few years the best and the brightest havent been going to Microsoft or to other startups (what other startups?) but to Google, where the promise of riches awaited. After the IPO, Google will become a company of haves—new houses, new cars, early retirements—and have-nots—everyone else and most future hires.
That sort of environment is not particularly conducive to cooperation and harmony. I believe it was Apple where at one point the old-timers took to wearing buttons reading “FUIFV,” as in “f-you-Im-fully-vested.” I am not sure how Google dealt with this in advance, but many IPOs have littered companies with perpetual underlings suddenly worth much more than their more recently hired bosses. Like I said, a post-IPO company can be a really interesting place to work.
Heres how I see the future: Googles star may continue to rise a bit, but then reality and the reality of being No. 1 and being everyones target will hit home. Google will start to sink a bit—perhaps a big bit—just as Microsofts new offering appears on the search scene. By that time, other search engines may have solved their problems, and customers will have noticed that Google isnt nearly as wonderful as it used to be. Its also possible that some third party will out-Google Google and come up with a better search engine, just as Google bested AltaVista (remember them?).
This could mean Google will be a short-lived phenomenon, at least as the Holy Grail of searching that it clearly used to be. Every day I use Google—and I do use it every day—it seems to be less useful to me than the day before.
Maybe the people who are about to line Googles pockets with their investment money havent noticed this, but its out there to be noticed. Google has another OK year or so, but unless the company can essentially reinvent itself and create a better Google than Google, someone else will. Googles future doesnt look nearly as happy as its past.
Google wont croak the way Netscape did. And Microsoft wont target Google for annihilation. But the competition is going to come, and Google will be less special tomorrow than it is today, always a bad sign for IPO investors.
eWEEK.com Special Correspondent David Coursey has spent two decades writing about computing and communications. Previously a writer for USA Today, InfoWorld, ZDNet, ComputerWorld and other major publications, today he runs a technology consulting business. Write him at [email protected].